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story.lead_photo.caption Democrat photo/Kevin LabotkaThe California Pintos boys basketball team lost Dec. 3 to Versailles 101-92 in the second round of the Tri-County Conference Tournament.

WARDSVILLE — The California Pintos boys basketball team (0-5) is still searching for its first win of the season after a tough loss Dec. 4 to Osage in the seventh-place game at the Tri-County Tournament. The Pintos fell to the Indians 60-42.

In the first round of the tournament California lost Dec. 1 to Boonville 70-38, and in the second round, the team lost another close game Dec. 3 to Versailles 101-92.

In their first-round game, the Pintos trailed Boonville 43-23 at halftime. Calen Krueger led the team with 11 points in the game and Hunter Berendzen had a team-high six rebounds.

In the second-round game, California trailed Versailles 53-35 after the first half. The Pintos made the game a lot closer in the second half as the team went on a 19-5 run to make it a 58-54 game with around 2:20 left in the third quarter. The Pintos then made it a three-point game at 60-57 with 1:48 left in the quarter after a three-pointer by Kaden Keeran. The two teams traded points for the final minutes of the quarter until the game was tied at 62-62 with less than a minute to go. Versailles made a basket to make it 64-62 with around 30 seconds left. California tied it again at 64, but Versailles made two free throws to retake the lead at 66-64 with around 10 seconds left in the quarter before scoring a buzzer beater lay-up to make it 68-64 entering the final period. California outscored Versailles 29-15 in the quarter.

The fourth quarter was also a high-scoring affair as Versailles just squeaked ahead by outscoring California 33-28 in the final quarter. With less than six minutes in the game, the Pintos made it a one-possession game at 77-75 after a basket by Krueger, but Versailles answered back with a 10-5 run to make it 87-80 with less than 4:00 left on the clock. In the game's final minutes, Versailles did just enough to keep the game out of the Pintos' reach, keeping the lead around 10 points for most of the final minutes.

Garrett Burger led the team with 29 points in the loss and added 15 rebounds for a double-double; Krueger added 16 points, six assists and three steals; Will Pickering scored 13 points and secured eight rebounds; and Gavin Porter scored 11 points.

The seventh-place game was low scoring early on, as neither team cracked the double digits and the game was tied at 9 after the first quarter.

The Pintos jumped out to a four-point lead at 13-9 in the early stages of the second quarter. With around 4:00 left in the quarter, the Pintos still led by four points at 17-13. With around 2:30 left in the first half, California led 21-13, but Osage responded with an 9-0 run to end the first half with a 22-21 lead.

Osage started the second half on another extended 7-0 run to extend the lead to 29-21 with just more than 5:00 left in the third quarter. Back-to-back baskets by Calen Krueger cut the lead down to four points at 29-25 with less than 3:00 to go. The Pintos then cut the lead down to two points after a basket on a fast break where Krueger delivered a behind-the-back pass to Kaden Keeran to make it 29-27 with just more than 2:00 to go. Osage ended the quarter on a 7-1 run to make it 36-28 after the third quarter.

In the final quarter, Osage led 42-30 with less than 7:00 left in the game. The Pintos struggled to score in the final quarter, as Osage extended the lead to 50-34 with less than 4:00 to go in the game, and later to 54-36 with less than 2:00 to go. Osage outscored California 24-14 in the final quarter, keeping the game just out of reach throughout.

Pintos head coach Brad Conway said the team played really hard in all three games throughout the tournament. Conway also said it's a work in progress as the team learns its new system.

"We kept competing and that was a huge positive," Conway said. "Like I told the players, you can't get frustrated because it is a process. Everything we have introduced is new to them, so they are trying to pick up on new offenses and new defense and new terminology. We have not even had our whole team yet."

Conway said some players are out with injuries, and some freshmen players were moved up the depth chart to play in the tournament, so the chemistry wasn't quite there.

"I think we had two kids that are playing right now with any varsity experience; everybody else played JV last year or was in eighth grade," Conway said. "The chemistry is a work in progress, and we are still learning together. Like I said, the biggest thing was they played really hard. I was really proud of the effort."

Conway said right now, the team is having some trouble scoring while on offense.

"We are having a hard time scoring right now," Conway said. "It seems like there is a lid on the basket, but I told the kids that they have to keep working at it as it is a process and it's baby steps. They are still practicing hard, and I think we are moving in the right direction. It is just a slow process right now."

One reason for the troubles with scoring is the team's timing, Conway said.

"Our timing is off a little bit," Conway said. "We just have to keep repping what we are doing. We are learning to deal with adversity. When other teams make a run, we have to be able to put a stop to those runs, and we have to continue to try to execute better offensively."

Conway said he saw some bright spots from the team during the tournament, but the players have to keep working.

"In the Versailles game, we got down pretty big, and we kept fighting and fighting. We never took the lead, but I think we tied it two or three different times, so that was a huge positive," Conway said. "Again, the kids are playing super hard and the effort I really like. Everything else is going to come around. I don't know when it is going to happen, but the light is going to click on and we are going to start seeing some positive outcomes."

The Pintos' next game is at 5 p.m. Dec. 15 at home against Centralia.

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